Hiking the Inca Trail and seeing the ruins of Machu Picchu at sunrise is on the bucket list for many travelers. It was for me too, until I saw the price tag and thought about the gear I would need to complete such a hike.
Then I remembered I’ve never done any real hiking and an intense 4 day hike in the Andes mountains might not be such a good idea.
I looked into taking PeruRail, the train that takes travelers to Aguas Calientes (the closest point of entry to Machu Picchu), but tickets going to Aguas Calientes were sold out for the entire two weeks I was in Peru.
I couldn’t imagine going all the way to Peru and not seeing Machu Picchu, so I decided to explore the other lesser known route to MP.
The Cusco – Santa Maria – St. Teresa route.
It gets a small mention in the Peru Lonely Planet and is suggested for “die-hard” travelers only. Actually, it’s perfect for solo travelers on a budget interested in doing some moderate hiking.
The total trip should cost you under or around 250 soles/$100 American dollars round trip, including the entrance fee to Machu Picchu, food and accommodation. Compare that to $500 dollars for the Inca trail or a pricey PeruRail ticket running from $96 to $142 dollars round trip, it’s a great deal.
Starting early in the morning in Cusco (no later than 8AM) , you’ll either take a bus to Quillabamba and get off at the Santa Maria stop or take a van with the locals. I opted for the van and it cost me 30 soles for the five hour drive to Santa Maria. Ask your hostel or hotel where the best place is to catch a ride.
Once arriving in Santa Maria, you’ll find another ride (this is really easy as drivers wait for the vans to arrive from Cusco) to St. Teresa. Another 15 soles.
Crash in St. Teresa for the night. There are no hostels so plan on booking a room for yourself.
Next morning, wake up bright and early for your hike to Aguas Calientes!
Pack the necessary food, sunscreen and bug spray.
Walk until you reach the cable car crossing over the Urubamba river. There are several of these cable cars along the river and you’re fine using any of them. This part is a lot of fun.
At this point, if you’re traveling solo, you probably won’t be anymore. This route is increasing in popularity so there are plenty of other hikers around. Don’t worry about getting lost.
The next thing you want to look for is a hydroelectric plant. All hikers must sign in before continuing to Aguas Calientes. Once you get through the plant all you have to do is follow the railroad tracks all the way to Aguas Calientes.
Congratulations! You made it! Time to celebrate at one of the ubiquitous pizza joints in town.
Additional things to know:
- Rumor is this hike takes about four hours. It takes closer to eight.
- The bank in Aguas Calientes runs out of money!!! It happened to me and I was stuck without any cash for two days.
- Double check the status of the roads during the rainy season. They may be washed out.
- This is a LONG ride for those who get carsick. Most of the driving between Santa Maria and St. Teresa takes place on extremely narrow dirt roads.
- These prices are from 2010 and may have changed slightly.
If you’re thinking of doing this trek and have more questions, please ask away!
Has anyone else taken the backdoor route to Machu Picchu?